Volunteers generously donate their time for free. The least we can do is show our appreciation and thanks. Don’t worry. We’re not talking about loud, fancy gifts! Volunteer appreciation can be expressed in so many ways (often just a thank you goes a long way!) and is instrumental in building better relationships with your team.
Don’t know where to start? The team at Rosterfy have got you covered. We’ve pulled together our Top 30 volunteer appreciation ideas, designed to engage and retain your volunteers but most importantly, to show them that you care.
Why is volunteer appreciation important?
Organizations often forget that volunteering is a two way street.
The silent achiever for the economy, volunteers contributed $187.7 billion to the United States economy through their time, talent and expertise in 2019 with volunteers valued at $28.54 per hour.
With reduced headcounts and demand for non for profit services greater than ever, the demand for volunteers is likely to increase over the coming years and with less staff in place, we need to get better at retaining our volunteers so that we’re not starting from scratch year in and year out.
Too often, showing our appreciation gets lumped in the ‘too hard basket’. This needs to change. Now more than ever, as we continue to face a worldwide pandemic, volunteers deserve recognition, and organizations should be placing an emphasis on volunteer appreciation during COVID-19. With volunteers becoming more and more selective about the organizations that they choose to volunteer with, organizations that don’t choose to prioritize appreciation will likely lose their volunteers to organizations that do.
Volunteers might choose to volunteer to support an event or cause that is close to their heart, in which case the act of volunteering might be enough but they also might choose to volunteer for more personal reasons. Many volunteers choose to volunteer to build up their resume through relevant (unpaid) industry experience, access training and networking opportunities and to have the opportunity to create meaningful social interactions within their communities. Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to make friends. Understanding these motivations is the key to delivering a tailored appreciation experience that is personalized and engaging.
Volunteers who enjoy a positive experience with your organization and who feel appreciated are more likely to become repeat volunteers. They are also more likely to sing your praises to their friends and family, thus opening the doors to growing your volunteer database.
Have we got your attention? Let’s get started with some effective volunteer recognition ideas.
Take care of your volunteers
One of the best ways that you can show your volunteers you appreciate them is by looking after them onsite. Many of us simply couldn’t function without our volunteers, Don’t make the mistake of not valuing their time. If anything it should be valued more, because they are donating it freely.
While many volunteers choose to volunteer to give back, just as many choose to volunteer to connect with their communities, to make new friends and to be more social. Give them a sense of community and make them feel that they are a true (and integral) part of your team through the following volunteer appreciation ideas.
1.Make sure they have the essentials.
Your volunteers are essentially like your children. If it’s going to be cold outside, make sure they have access to a jacket and umbrella. If it’s hot, make sure that they have a hat and sunscreen. Don’t have the resources to provide additional gear? Check the weather radar one week out and instruct volunteers to bring the right attire for their shift so that they’ve not left shivering in the cold!
2. Personal protective gear.In today’s climate, providing access to personal protective gear is a must. Why not put together a PPE kit for all your volunteers including hand sanitiser, masks, and gloves to ensure that you’re COVID-19 compliant and that your volunteers feel safe and comfortable completing their shift.
3. Provide a means to get in touch.Don’t leave volunteers at their post in the morning and pick them up at the end of the day assuming that they’ll ‘be okay. Make sure that your volunteers have a means to get in touch (mobile number or radio) should they need to get in touch.
4. Volunteer uniforms.
Create volunteer uniforms that volunteers actually want to wear and keep! Engage a local artist each year to design the t-shirt and make them collectable. Also make sure that you capture things like preferred sizes during registration so that you order the right sizes for your team.
5. Volunteer Badges.
One great way to encourage repeat volunteering is through a badge, which can be redeemed against hours volunteered. Volunteers can then add these to their t-shirt or hat as a badge of honour (pun intended!) for their service.
It’s the simple things that make people happy and food is one of them. Make sure your volunteers have snacks, lunch and water. Why not throw in a special treat like a cookie from the local bakery with ‘THANKS’ messaging to show them you really care.
7. Volunteer breakfast.
Take it one step further and cook up a hot breakfast for your volunteers! Nothing says thanks for getting out of bed early like a cup of coffee and bacon and eggs. Or even brainstorm some volunteer appreciation dinner ideas.
8. Discounted event tickets & memorabilia.
Partner with local businesses to offer discounted tickets and memorabilia to provide a tangible reward for volunteers time. Go one step better and gamify the whole experience through a custom reward and recognition program - see below for more.
9. Track their hours.
Volunteers often choose to volunteer to help build up their skills and expertise, with hours often required to be recorded and approved. Make sure that you have a system in place that enables you to check in and out your volunteers in real time and that volunteers can access these timesheets afterwards.
Gamify your rewards programme
Technology dominates every other component of our lives so why not your volunteer management program also? A great way to show your appreciation to your volunteers is through a reward and recognition program, facilitated by a volunteer management solution.
Everybody loves games. A great way to engage your volunteers is through turning your volunteer appreciation into a game through a reward and recognition program.
Hours volunteered can be turned into points and redeemed against rewards, accessible within volunteer portals and key milestones can unlock new rewards and incentives that show your appreciation.
Take it one step further by commercializing your rewards programme
We get it. Budgets are tight. One great way to really give your volunteers a great selection of gifts and experiences to choose from is to work with your existing partners or bring on new corporate partners to commercialize your volunteer program. In exchange for providing rewards for volunteers, corporations receive great brand awareness for their product - a win-win for everyone involved.
Think outside of the box when it comes to your volunteer appreciation
We’ve all received the generic thank you email after volunteering. While the good ones (and that’s saying something), might personalize using our first name and link to a volunteer certificate there are some great out of the box volunteer appreciation activities that will add a personal touch and will be sure to put a smile on your volunteers faces.
10. Video from CEO or Volunteer Manager.
A great way to show your appreciation is by delivering a recorded message to your volunteers thanking them for their time. Videos like these can be a great way to highlight the impact of their time which might come in the form of fundraising updates, key milestones achieved and general event feedback.
11. Video from community groups.
A big reason why volunteers choose to volunteer is to give back in meaningful ways. For non profits or events who work directly with community groups, a video message from the community group at which they have served thanking them for their services goes a long way in showing your appreciation. Also, it gives all the warm, fuzzy feels which we’re all about!
I think we all still get a little excited receiving something in the mail. Why not send a personalized card to each of your volunteers thanking them for their time.
13. Phone call.
With everything that has been happening over the past 12 months, people are craving human interactions. One of the best ways that you can show your appreciation is to personally call each of your volunteers to say thanks!
14. Volunteer of the Month.
A great way to champion volunteers is through a newsletter that highlights the amazing work of your volunteer community. A newsletter provides a great platform to provide updates on fundraising targets, event updates and to promote upcoming opportunities but more than that, it provides an opportunity to shine the spotlight on the great work that they do.
15. Set up a Volunteer Group Chat.
A great way to connect your volunteers with each other is to set up a Group where volunteers can jump in and write messages, share photos and make connections.
16. Create a Yearbook.
So many great memories are created volunteering, Why not capture this with a volunteer yearbook filled with images, stories and reflections on the year that was. This could be digital or better still, invest in a printed copy for each of your volunteers.
17. Celebrate milestones.
Celebrate anniversaries with your organization, key milestones and birthdays by sending your volunteers personalized communications that show that they truly are a valued part of the family.
18. Host a trivia night.
Volunteer appreciation games are an awesome way to connect with your volunteers and whether it's virtual or in person, trivia is always a winner, allowing you to get to know everyone in an informal environment and most importantly, have some fun.
19. Volunteer appreciation social media posts.
Celebrate and acknowledge your volunteers with shout outs via your socials. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat volunteers love a bit of public appreciation. This also provides a great opportunity for volunteers to share posted content, spreading this to their networks far and wide.
20. Throw a volunteer appreciation event.
At the end of the year a great way to celebrate your volunteers is with an appreciation party. Offer prizes, provide access to excess merchandise and provide some great food and entertainment. Most important of all, don’t forget to say THANK YOU!
Volunteer Appreciation Ideas for NonProfits
Nonprofits are largely driven and run by volunteers. Without volunteers, many nonprofits and charities would simply cease to exist, making appreciation and recognition all the more important. With many nonprofit volunteers also serving as fundraisers there’s even more reason to sing their praises and show your thanks.
We’ve come up with some dedicated appreciation ideas for nonprofits to ensure that your volunteers feel recognized.
- Video from CEO. Majority of nonprofit volunteers because the cause is close to their hearts. They are interested in the company, it’s fundraising and the people that they support. One of the best ways to engage with your volunteers is to record a dedicated CEO message to volunteers highlighting the real impact of their generosity.
- Celebrity Speaker. Many nonprofits have affiliations with celebrities or influential individuals, which further their organizations cause and reach. Use this to your advantage and invite your volunteers to enjoy an exclusive in-conversation with a celebrity keynote to provide guidance on leadership and resilience or maybe just to provide some comedic entertainment.
- Volunteer appreciation event. Show your volunteers you care by throwing a volunteer awards appreciation evening, celebrating volunteers milestones with special awards throughout the evening. This doesn’t have to be a black tie affair! Why not hold a BBQ in a park or provide some snacks and drinks at the local bowling alley.
Knowledge is Power. Upskill and Train your Volunteers
One of the best ways that you can show your appreciation is by giving back in meaningful ways. Education and training is a great way to recognize the motivations of your volunteers by providing opportunities that are designed to create real employment opportunities.
21. Online training.
Training is a great way for organizations to upskill their volunteers, making them more informed and confident not only at your event or cause but more importantly within the community more broadly. Say for instance, you provide training in First Aid and CPR. Your volunteer is now not only able to react accordingly in the case of a medical emergency at your event but they also take this knowledge home with them and into their communities, which can legitimately help save lives.
22. Guest speaker.
Hold an exclusive event for your volunteers and bring in a guest speaker to inspire and excite. Whether it’s the CEO, one of your ambassadors or just an inspiring community member, pick a topic that’s relevant to your volunteers and align your keynote to ensure a memorable evening.
23. Team Leader.
Provide opportunities to take on a more hands on leadership role, through a volunteer team leader position. This provides not only a fantastic growth opportunity but also helps volunteer managers with more hands to help!
24. Internship opportunities.
Internships are a great way to get volunteers involved within your organization on a deeper level, exploring opportunities beyond the volunteer program. Internships can also be facilitated and encouraged with your corporate partners and sponsors to extend the amount of opportunities for your volunteers.
25. Letter of recommendation.
Bearing in mind that often volunteers choose to volunteer to build up their experience, one of the best ways you can show your appreciation is through a letter of recommendation for volunteers to use when applying for jobs.
26. Write a LinkedIn reference for top volunteers.
For volunteers who go the extra mile and you generally couldn’t live without, why not write them a glowing LinkedIn reference to help them get their foot in the door.
27. Paid work opportunities.If a paid opportunity opens up in your team the BEST way to show your appreciation is to offer that job to one of your volunteers. We mentioned before that volunteers are like your children and you want your children to succeed so anything you can do to help secure them full time employment is a huge win for everyone.
How do volunteers feel valued?
Let’s face it. There’s always room for improvement. It’s so important to provide your volunteers with the opportunity to provide feedback and just as important that you listen to it and react accordingly. Organizations that run the same program year in and year out will not only quickly bore volunteers but will also likely lose them as they’re obviously not addressing the needs and concerns of their volunteers.
28. Feedback Survey.
Share a feedback survey with your volunteers to ascertain their likes and dislikes and to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of your volunteer program.
29. Follow up phone calls.
Better still, follow up with your volunteers over the phone to discuss 1:1 their concerns and to ensure that their needs feel heard and understood.
30. Volunteer Report.
Publish the results of your volunteer survey and outline the measures that will be implemented to help address concerns.
What do you say to volunteers in appreciation?
Although it’s simple, one of the best ways you can show your appreciation is to say thank you. Get to know your volunteers and make the time and effort to better understand what motivates them, their likes and dislikes and what they’re looking to gain out of their volunteer experience. When thanking them, make sure you make it personal - i.e “We’re so grateful that you volunteered an incredible 20 hours in the freezing cold to help us raise our fundraising targets.” or “Thanks for the beautiful card you sent to the team - it really put a smile on our faces after a huge week.”
We hope that this guide of volunteer appreciation ideas comes in handy and that it can be used to increase your volunteer retention through better engagement plus thoughtful and considered appreciation initiatives.
If you'd like to learn more about how a volunteer management solution like Rosterfy might work for you, please don't hesitate to get in touch.